Tuesday, January 18, 2011
History Lesson: 2004 Pac 10 Championships
The 2004 NCAA Season was one of the strongest and most competitive seasons in history. With UCLA, Georgia, Stanford, Alabama, Florida and Michigan all featuring deep lineups loaded with experience, scoring reached an all-time high. Many seniors were on missions to end their careers on an insanely positive note, which led judges at lesser meets to get swept up in the 10.0 mania. A 198 is thought to be a prime championship-level score, but that season saw many teams routinely break that mark.
UCLA was unquestionably the best team that season. Though they had lost their Fab Five seniors to graduation, Maloney was back and the rest of the team had an added experience and class that just hadn't been seen before. Miss Val was feeling inspired when she choreographed the floor routines and used Richardson's quest for a second Olympic Team and the excitement of Maloney's unthinkable comeback to motivate the team to win NCAAs at home.
Jamie Danztscher was injured in 2004 after having off-season ankle surgery in an attempt to make a run at a second Olympics. At full strength, she was likely to pull off another Olympic berth, but scar tissue from her surgery left her ankle immobilized. Bruins like Tedmon, Winn and Peckett would fill her spot on several events, but UCLA relied on a core of Antolin-Richardson-Maloney-Tousek throughout the season. Their lack of depth beyond that point wouldn't become evident until the next season after Dantzscher, Antolin and Tousek graduated.
Stanford was also on a mission that season and its senior class was poised to challenge anyone and everyone. They performed clean gymnastics consistently and became a force to be reckoned with. Their seniors were aided by the sophomore duo of Natalie Foley and Glyn Sweets.
When UCLA competed that year, they had the confidence that if they hit, they'd never lose. It was true and everyone knew it. Their 'calm confidence' mantra was repeated again and again, which signaled to everyone else that they knew just how good they were. While Val has tried to use the mantra with other teams, it really suited this situation the best. UCLA had the best team in 2003, with Nebraska being its only main challenger throughout that season. Their performance at Nationals was strong, but uneven. Far too many mistakes were made. When teams have a plethora of riches, there become situations when some team members let themselves down mentally because their subconscious knows they don't have to be perfect. If they go 9.70, the girl behind them will just get a 9.95 and even the score. Such was the cast at the 2004 Pac 10 Championships. UCLA had a great meet by any standard, but they left the door open. Stanford hit the meet of their lives and took the title by .025. The win wound up helping the Bruins, who also failed to earn the #1 seed to NCAAs at their Regional meet. The back-to-back less than dominating performances pushed them to a level of focus that proved unbeatable when it came time for the NCAA Championships.
The post season is long and drawn out for teams who expect to compete and likely win an NCAA Title. One of the biggest challenges becomes using whatever outcome happens at the conference meet to push the team forward. Unfortunately, some teams wind up peaking too soon. Georgia peaked prior to NCAAs and didn't give UCLA a true run for its money in Pauley. For UCLA, this narrow loss provided the fuel for a record-breaking championship win.